Legendary jazzman Johnny Otis has spent a lifetime at the center of L.A.'s black music scene as a composer, performer, producer, d.j., activist, and preacher. His energetic, anecdotal memoir, Upside Your Head Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue, recalls the music, the great performers, and the vibrant culture of the district, as well as the political and social forces -- including virulent white racism -- that have shaped black life in Los Angeles. Resonating with anger, poignancy, joy, and defiance, Upside Your Head is a unique document of the African-American musical and cultural experience.
Upside Your Head recalls a 50-year career when it seems Otis either encountered, discovered, or performed with every significant figure in the early days of rhythm & blues and rock 'n' roll, including Count Basie, Esther Phillips, T-Bone Walker, Big Mama Thornton, and Lester Young. Drawing on dozens of vignettes, personal photographs, and hours of taped interviews from the popular "Johnny Otis Show," Upside Your Head offers a moving tribute to the black community that gave birth to L.A.'s rhythm and blues. His stories celebrate the true roots in black culture of a distinctive American music while lamenting its eventual appropriation by the dominant white society.
Hodgepodge of essays, reminiscences, and radio-interview transcripts by LA.-based R&B drummer/concert promoter/songwriter Otis. Born John Veliotes in 1921 to a Greek-American family, Otis has become what he calls a "Black by persuasion." In the 50's, he was an important band leader in the L.A. area, promoting the careers of many musicians and vocalists; his own hits include the early 50's novelty number, "Willie and the Hand Jive." Here, Otis alternately blasts the American political landscape for racism and waxes nostalgic over the "good old days" of early R&B. But his political musings are simplistic ("Racism was the primary factor in the deterioration of African American culture," he says, as if the proliferation of new forms of entertainment had nothing to do with the decline of more traditional styles) and also somewhat odd (his constant referrals to "our people" while contending that no white can empathize with the black experience seem particularly strange since he himself is white). Moreover, readers looking for new information on the birth of R&B will be disappointed. Occasionally, Otis comes up with an enlightening comment on a musician he's known (he describes Count Basie's piano-playing as "a well-modulated style of plinks and planks that usually concealed the deep reservoir of heat that lurked just below the surface"), but more often his comments border on rosy-eyed nostalgia (a typical description of the early L.A. music scene: "Central Avenue was full of thrills at that time"). The author's lack of sympathy for today's performers - they're without "discipline and style" and replace musicianship with showmanship - may be on target, but he paints this picture with a mile-wide brush. Essentially a cranky look at politics and today's pop music. (Kirkus Reviews)
|List of Illustrations|
|Introduction: Creating Dangerously: The Blues Life of Johnny Otis, George Lipsitz|
|Central Avenue Breakdown|
|Rhythm and Blues|
|Preaching, Painting, and Plowing|
|The Los Angeles Rebellion and the Politics of Race|
|Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.|
Number Of Pages: 212
Published: 19th November 1993
Publisher: University Press of New England
Dimensions (cm): 22.9 x 15.2 x 1.6
Weight (kg): 0.31